Game of Thrones taught us the importance of leverage to a takeover. It’s a lesson we needed to dominate the media space and make the show’s prequel, House of the Dragon, the reigning cultural event of the year.
Despite Game of Thrones’ popularity, there were two main concerns that would affect our integrated media approach to the prequel’s launch.
The first were concerns about franchise fatigue. Game of Thrones remains the #1 viewed HBO title of all time, and its cultural ubiquity was something we would need to consider heavily.
Related: the final season of Game of Thrones was not an outright triumph. NME reported fans found the show’s finale the second most disappointing ever, meaning our campaign needed to establish a palpable energy to get lapsed fans to emotionally reinvest in House of the Dragon’s universe.
The state of the streaming environment at launch further complicated matters. House of the Dragon was HBO Max’s first tentpole post the WB-Discovery merger. New CEO David Zaslav needed a calculated programming win to establish confidence in his leadership. It was on us to drive new subscribers and motivate enduring popularity for potential audience expansion.
From past successes with key HBO Max properties, we knew an integrated media buy across social, digital, OOH, experiential, and home could inspire an initial wave of new subscribers, but also longtail investment in a show’s plotline, characters, and audience discourse.
But we would also have to pay attention to unconventional platforms that could play a crucial role.
Given the cultural cachet of the show’s predecessor, we knew the premiere for House of the Dragon had to feel like a cultural event.
Despite the GoT criticism, we knew millions of fans would be immediate evangelists for a deeper exploration of Westeros. On Twitter and Reddit, we leaked organic teasers like key art and first look content a year from launch, giving fans ample time to speculate ahead of our paid tactics.
Four months from launch, we set about conquering the mass media market, befitting our show’s reputation.
What better weapon than the show’s iconic dragons? We built eye-catching interactive 3D billboards and installations featuring the dragons, setting them loose across NYC/LA. Simultaneously, we took over 49 LiveNation concert venues, populating 114 live shows with our custom dragon installations.
We intentionally leaned into areas where we could surface potential evangelists. We integrated into a National History Museum exhibit in LA and offered a course on DuoLingo in learning to speak High Valarian.
Meanwhile, we built a sophisticated infrastructure of bespoke partnerships with media outlets that would run in parallel with an intricate paid and organic push on social, deepening impact and exposure for viewers across multiple screens. We did this with a string of first-to-market integrations across unconventional platforms.
Partnering with Riot Games, we became the first in-game sponsor of the pro-eSport Championship League of Legends Series. This involved not only in-game banners during launch weekend, but an objective within the tournament itself (collect Westeros banners).
We immersed viewers in the behind-the-scenes details with first-of-its-kind content on Roku home screens, connecting multi-screen users to our robust assortment of social activations. In addition to large spends on Twitter and Meta, we utilized a first-adopter PULSE Beta filter on TikTok and a custom Snapchat AR global lens that put people in the world itself.
Coming off an experimental buy with The Trade Desk, we tested out a two-cell test of “Freemium” streaming apps such as Pluto, Tubi, XUMO vs. “Premium” apps like AMC, MLB, ESPN, FUBO, SlingTV and more, to see which group drove the most efficient cost/subscription.
Meanwhile, We set aside a healthy budget for traditional mediums, working in show details to the most popular audio programs on the airwaves, and powering mass incremental reach via WB-Discovery’s vast TV connections.
With “Dragon Week” we took over iHeartRadio week on the airwaves with HOTD chatter, and flexed the WBD TV portfolio to reach millions of US households on linear and digital, supplementing a complex media channel buy.
Lastly, we made the premiere the cultural event of the year. Partnering with Conde Nast, we threw experiential watch parties in key locations, haloing each event with social content that coincided with high-traffic digital banners across a variety of publications like GQ, Vogue, and Pitchfork.
Pulsing paid spends with each new episodes, we ensured House of the Dragon stayed top of mind all throughout its triumphant first season, continuing to prioritize efficient mainstream channels and unorthodox spaces like Fandom and Reddit.
We made the House of the Dragon launch a calculated takeover. But we never planned on breaking HBO Max.
On premiere day (Sunday, Aug. 21), episode one reached nearly 10 million viewers across linear and HBO Max platforms in the U.S. That mark stands as the largest original series premiere audience in HBO history, even besting its predecessor. As such, the HBO Max app crashed due to unprecedented usage.
Once the app was upgraded to serve the increase in viewership, we boosted the audience further. Within the first week, Ep1 tallied 25MM viewers, the fastest viewership growth ever recorded for a single episode in streaming history.
Once hooked, viewers couldn’t get enough, perfectly playing into our strategy to sustain the integrated success on social. House of the Dragon maintained the number one trending topic on Twitter/Google Trends every Sunday night until the season finale.
The campaign was an absolute triumph for HBO Max and WB-Discovery’s streaming prospects. Streaming subscriptions rose nearly 95 million across global customers on HBO, HBO Max and Discovery+ in Q3, a 23% increase vs. Q1, and the #1 subscription driver for HBO Max.
From fanning the flames on social, to setting dragons loose across NYC skyscrapers, to sending League of Legends athletes on quests for Westeros banners, our holistic paid media strategy brought a value of $100M to our launch efforts.
All that value brought Westeros back with a vengeance, ensuring House of the Dragon was the biggest hit of the year.